Extreme weather to blame for £1.3bn loss

The wet weather may be a sign of things to come. Picture: PA
The wet weather may be a sign of things to come. Picture: PA
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ALTHOUGH the official figures will not be released until later this month, the English National Farmers Union estimates that the extreme weather has caused a staggering £1.3 billion loss in farm income in 2012 as a result of extreme weather problems.

And the union warns that might not be the final tally as many farmers currently have land under water or are facing a double-whammy of huge feed bills for their livestock.

With farmers reeling from both the physical and financial challenges from last year, union president Peter Kendall has called for fresh thinking from government on farm policy in his 2013 message to the industry.

“We know drought in the key production regions across the globe is the main driver for rocketing animal feed costs. In stark contrast, at home a wash-out summer – further compounded by a sodden autumn and winter – has hammered production.

“Climate change scientists have long predicted that agriculture will face major challenges from global warming. However, 2012 has starkly demonstrated the cost that extreme weather events can wreak on farmers and the food supply chain. Global warming is commonly thought of as a series of small, incremental temperature rises. However, there is now growing evidence that the more immediate impact – at home and abroad – will be in the form of extreme weather events.”

Kendall said the “fresh thinking” from agricultural policy makers and from the whole food supply chain should be based on ensuring that farmers adapt and thus increase resilience in food supplies.

“So how do we do this? Better relationships and sharing of risk in the supply chain will help farmers plan in these volatile and uncertain times.”

Kendall saw the appointment of the Grocery Supply Code of Practice Adjudicator in the coming months as a positive move that will help root out bad practice in the supply chain.

He was also optimistic over recent moves by retailers to create meaningful long-term relationships with farmers.

Looking to the reform of the common agricultural policy, Kendall said that while the union had never argued for the CAP to be exempt from cuts, it was important the UK government ensured its farmers were treated fairly.

“In years like 2012, it is very clear to see that the support farming receives from the CAP is an absolute lifeline to many farmers. If there is to be a reduction in these payments, it should take place evenly across Europe’s single market. Already an English dairy farmer, on a typical 100 hectare farm, receives €20,000 [£16,250] a year less than a Danish or Dutch competitor. This has to stop.

“Recently, we have heard government representatives refer to these support payments as ‘worthless’, arguing that payments should only go to environmental goals. With the possible exception of Sweden, the UK government is the only one out of 27 member state countries in the EU arguing in this way.”

To continue with this policy would have only one outcome, he said, and that was discrimination against farmers in this country.

He concluded: “As farmers look out over their sodden fields this New Year’s Day, they remain generally optimistic for the longer term, but this will be a crucial year, when the building blocks for a secure food supply and resilient farming sector are put in place.

“Our industry is well-placed to help deliver jobs and growth in 2013, but for the longer term we need fresh thinking that builds confidence and resilience for meeting one of society’s greatest challenges; feeding a growing population in a smarter, more sustainable way.”